What a Difference Relationships Make
Creating a safe space for people living with dementia with The Bitove Method.
This article was written by a guest contributor, and the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author.
At The Bitove Method, we do things differently than other programs designed for people living with dementia. Our approach has blossomed over nearly a decade of practice, built on foundations of dignity, creativity, joy and relational caring.
The last piece, relational caring, comes from culture change initiatives in the fields of dementia and long-term care. It is a beautiful philosophy that puts relationships at the forefront of how we care for each other. This includes pre-existing relationships, relationships with formal and informal care partners, as well as building new, meaningful relationships.
The beauty of this approach is that it is for everyone: our participants, their loved ones, our team members and anyone else who comes into our circle. As cherished community member Myrna Lofsky says, “Dementia doesn’t affect just one person — it affects a family, it affects the people that are working with that family,” and through The Bitove Method’s relational approach, you “develop a bond that you can’t break” with all of those involved.
"People who are in caregiving roles for their loved ones attend and connect with others, reflect on their experiences and receive valuable peer support from people who get it."
– Katia Engell
Myrna’s husband Al has thrived in The Bitove Method’s community, both in-person and online. She attributes this to the fact that “the people who work there truly care — I felt it the minute I walked into it.” It is true that, from a relational caring perspective, there is room for team members to authentically care for (and with) participants and their loved ones.
The ripple effects of this are broad — Myrna shares that Al has always felt respected and loved at The Bitove Method. He doesn’t focus on his health and neither do the others, even while he is being taken care of. In return, community members support our artist team, caring for them too and going to their concerts and art shows outside of The Bitove Method. Myrna is always looking for ways to give back to The Bitove Method and feels proud and happy when she can do so.
In addition to her insight about our arts-based programming, Myrna is a guest at our monthly care partner gatherings — a support group for our community’s loved ones co-hosted by one of our artists, Robin Gertin, who is also a registered art therapist. At these gatherings, people who are in caregiving roles for their loved ones attend and connect with others, reflect on their experiences and receive valuable peer support from people who get it. Myrna says, “It’s not that misery loves company; it’s more so: ‘You know what I’m thinking — wow!’ And we’re there for the same reason. We can ask, ‘How do you cope? What do you do?’”
Real friendships have emerged in these groups too, with attendees meeting outside our gatherings for lunch, calling one another to check in and being there for each other when their loved ones pass away. While it is a space to tackle the heavy stuff, it is also a safe space to share in the full spectrum of emotions. “There’s laughter once you get past the misery of it,” says Myrna. “To have someone else understand where you’re coming from is a wonderful thing … we can laugh because we’re not judging each other the way society judges. And let’s be honest, they judge.”
"Creating spaces that are judgment-free is our goal at The Bitove Method."
– Katia Engell
Creating a safe space for all
Naming the stigma of dementia, as Myrna has, is important — and creating spaces that are judgment-free is our goal at The Bitove Method. We are an intentionally non-clinical space with no aims to “fix” anyone. We don’t ask for a diagnosis, we don’t assess anyone and we don’t judge anyone. Instead, we walk alongside our community members on their journey with memory loss, we lead with curiosity and meet people where they’re at in the moment.
The same is true for our team members, as well as anyone else connected to our space. We accept and celebrate our colleagues for who they are, and we support one another. New artist Juanna Nguyen speaks of her experience joining our team online: “I thought I’d be nervous in staff meetings at first. But when I come into the meetings for The Bitove Method, everyone is so relaxed and they’re being themselves. It has been great seeing how someone new is greeted by the existing team — it feels like we’re already a part of something.”
With a background in music therapy, Juanna also made note of the difference between The Bitove Method and traditional models of caring. Most notably, she notes how professionals are not typically meant to receive care in return. In contrast, at The Bitove Method, we foster reciprocity among everyone. This includes people beyond our team and participants too, such as drivers from ride services. For example, Myrna shares how she booked a ride through a service recently. Not only did the driver know her husband Al and speak of him with fondness, but he knew about The Bitove Method too, as he used to drive them to our in-person programs. He asked about whether we were still in action and even asked how specific team members were doing since he last saw them.
A welcome return
While our online arts classes have proven to be powerful, joyful and accessible to many, we at The Bitove Method often miss the way in-person programming fostered such a network of connection amongst our community. Online, you simply don’t get drivers and loved ones coming in for a tea while they wait for one of our famous end-of-day dance parties to wrap up!
It is thus with tremendous joy that we announce our return to a physical space this April 2022. We look forward to opening our doors and expanding our joyful, creative, caring community in-person once more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katia Engell is the Artistic Program Manager at The Bitove Method, a Toronto-based non-profit that offers arts-based classes for people living with dementia. She is dedicated to advocating for creative and relational approaches to working with others, particularly with persons living with memory loss.
Engell completed a Master of Arts at the University of Waterloo in the department of Recreation and Leisure with a focus on culture change in long-term care. Coupled with a deep understanding of relational theories, she has a decade of practical experience working creatively with persons living with dementia and older adults as an artist with The Bitove Method team.
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